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The Polling Place...A Short Story...
The old man’s eyebrows were daunting. Use of the plural, of course, was more for convention than an actual accounting as he appeared to have only the one monster brow which, in the fashion of old men, looked more like a feather duster that had been left too long crunched up under a sofa cushion.
Bent, broken, and in disarray, each white pinion seemed more in business for themselves than working towards the unified goal of providing a dignified countenance to the man’s otherwise bald plate. Large, round, smudged tortoise-shell glasses were balanced precariously upon a long skinny nose which slashed downward in apparent headlong flight from the unruly follicles above. The big lenses highlighted his watery blue eyes which appeared as smudged as the lenses themselves while thin lips proved disinclined to hide the constant scowl that reflected the affects of ill-fitting dentures and his general outlook on life. After lurking under flared nostrils for awhile the scowl appeared to sneak off into a weak chin and turkey giblet neck that served to finish his face’s story. A name tag pinned to the natty brown sweater vest announced his name to be Albert, an official election volunteer.
Had Albert any friends they would have called him Al, however, he didn’t have any. The few he had managed to obtain over the years, mostly in the army, despite a cantankerous and overbearing personality, were all dead now or very nearly so. Dressed in a variety of shades of brown Albert appeared ready to return to the earth himself. His left sock slouches disrespectfully around his ankle while the other had already been sucked into his brown scuffed loafer. The beige Sear’s garden-shop pleated slacks that he favored were tattered at the ends as were the collar and cuffs of his stained brown Oxford shirt. The clothes, like his life, were frayed around the edges.
His long suffering wife of thirty-plus years had passed the previous summer and her friends, as she had many because she was a genuinely pleasant woman, were convinced her death was the best thing for her in view of the bitterness and sadness that had descended on the little suburban clapboard house the two had shared for over twenty years. Her friends blamed Albert for that unhappy state of affairs and they were correct. She had confided once to the girls that she was thinking about getting a parrot and teaching it to say, “Uh-huh” every five minutes as a way of masking her exit from what she termed, “Albert’s continual complaint-fest.”
Things had only grown worse following his mandatory retirement from the postal service several years earlier. Bitter that he had been passed over for promotion and forced to retire as Assistant Regional Supervisor, he inexplicitly blamed the president who happened to be in office and who also happened to be a democrat. Once that linkage was made in his mind a great number of issues crystallized into a political philosophy that was expressed almost daily by vitriolic diatribes at the kitchen table in response to every news event or weather report that drew his ire. Oh yes, he had his opinions about the weather and nearly every other topic. He missed his wife. He understood that venting to an empty kitchen was the type of activity that those liberal social workers would look for as a way of locking him up. Silencing him. That was why he had volunteered to serve as a polling station volunteer, to make sure the damned liberals didn’t steal this election and doom the planet. They had to be made to understand that he was right and they were wrong. It was a battle he had been fighting his whole life. Mostly because people were so stupid.
In contrast to Albert’s drab façade and dark thoughts, his garage, always meticulously neat, was now patriotically anointed with red, white, and blue bunting. A large American flag was prominently displayed along with the old regimental colors that he had carried half across Europe during the war. Along the back wall were three electronic voting machines spaced about five feet apart. At the moment all of them were unoccupied. Albert sat behind a long battered wooden table upon which the accoutrements of democracy sat. Clipboards holding voting rolls, forms that were signed prior to voting, a basket full of plastic cards to insert into the machines, a pile of small oval “I VOTED” stickers, and pencils with erasers on both ends for utilizing the touch pads of the voting machines were all neatly arrayed for the voters use.
It was only a little after noon and Albert had already processed over a hundred people who had steadily filtered in to vote since the polls opened five hours earlier. The weather was good; indeed Indian summer had descended on the entire region leading the pundits to expect a heavy turnout which was expected to benefit the insurgent candidacy of Randall Sitar and that worried Albert. Not only was he a democratic pansy, what kind of name was Sitar? Good God-fearing conservative votes were the only votes Albert intended to allow to be cast in his garage! Sitar? It sounded foreign and dang if he lost two toes in the Ardennes to see a foreigner take over his government! Albert was happy with his own performance so far in limiting the damage caused by an ill-informed and stupid electorate.
His system was simple. Being a superior judge of character he was able to size up potential problems as they walked up his cracked driveway. More often than not his intuition proved correct and they’re revealed to be democrat idiots when he pulls their registration card. He thought that he had been able to turn several to the correct way of thinking prior to their voting. Others he had simply driven off. He was scrupulous about observing the rules as they applied to democrats in determining their eligibility to vote in his garage. Incorrect addresses in the computer were his primary weapon against the liberal rabble that were hell bent on ruining his country, however, that wasn’t the only arrow in his quiver. Others he had informed that since they had not served in the military they were simply not allowed to vote and he told them to move on with all their commie arguments. Foreign sounding names were similarly dismissed without prejudice. After all, how can you be a citizen with a name like Sanchez for God’s sake? Crap, people were stupid. Women and Jews…don’t get him started. As Albert ruminated on the varied number of threats to the homeland a car pulled up to his curb and the driver shut off the engine. The early November sun glinted off the bright chrome, sending a dazzling shaft of light into the garage that obscured Albert’s vision. As his watery eyes blinked rapidly he heard the car door open and close. Was that a foreign car?
“Good afternoon, sir!” boomed a strong voice from within the bright light that radiated from Albert’s street.
Blinking and squinting, Albert shifted position and observed a form emerge from the halo of light. Tall, middle years, fit, well dressed in a dark blue serge suit with regimental red tie and highly polished black shoes. Albert noted with disapproval the man’s lack of a proper hat, however, that was the fashion of the day he supposed. One battle at a time. The man sported a full head of wavy brown hair that appeared slightly mussed up from the open car window and, most importantly, no facial hair. Albert was convinced that fellow travelers sported facial growth to hide their evil libertine values from good God fearing Americans who were, God bless them, too stupid to know that they should use the good sense that the good God gave them. Idiots. Well, not on Corporal (retired) Albert J. Gordon’s watch darn it! He would protect them from themselves. At first blush, however, it appeared safe to admit this new arrival within the lines.
“Is that a foreign car?” he asked suspiciously as he watched the curb for any activity that might suggest the car was about to stage a Pearl Harbor style attack on his home.
“The car? Oh, oh, yes. It’s a BMW,” the man replied as he removed his wallet and pulled out his identification, “My name is Jeff Austin and according to my sample ballot, this is my polling place. I believe you need my address?”
“German?” Albert asked quietly.
“German? No, mostly Irish and Welsh on my mom’s side,” Austin trailed off as he followed Albert’s gaze to the car, “Ah, the car again. Yes, it’s German but what are you gonna do, right? Those war-mongering bastards do make a good car do they not?” He laughed.
Blinking repeatedly, Albert stares at Austin. He casts his mind back in time to when, as a young man, he had liberated a German staff car, a black Mercedes, which had carried him and his buddies to Paris for three days of much needed rest and relaxation. While there, the car was stolen, probably by French black marketers, but Albert remembered it was a fine automobile. He nodded.
“Austin, you say?” Albert began running his gnarled finger down the voter list. Dust motes rose to form a sun dappled barrier between the two men as Austin moved to the side and looked up at the regimental flag hanging opposite Old Glory on the garage wall.
“You were with Patton’s Third Army? Were you at the Bulge fighting the fascist?” Austin asked with a slight trace of awe in his voice.
Albert’s finger stopped moving down the list as he looked up at Austin, “Was I? I left two toes in that god forsaken forest! Dirty dealing Nazis! We showed them though! We showed them!”
“Indeed you did sir. I thank you and your generation for the service you provided for all of us who followed. I daresay, however, that most of us who followed your generation have not lived up to the promise that your sacrifices provided us.” Austin opined respectfully.
“Well Mr. Austin I do believe you are absolutely correct about that,” Albert offered as he pulled the man’s registration card and glanced down at it. Confused he stammered, “You are a registered democrat?”
“Ah that,” laughed Austin as he came back over to the table, “I actually registered as a democrat so I could mix things up in their primary don’t you know. A little reconnoitering behind enemy lines, right? I’m pretty sure you had to do that around Bastogne during that cold winter, right?”
Impressed, Albert juggled this new information as his head slowly moved up and down. He began to smile broadly causing his uppers to jump slightly out of his mouth in surprise at this unusual facial development. “Indeed I did Mr. Austin, Indeed I did!! It is important to recognize the enemy is it not? You intend on supporting Caldwell then, of course?”
“Ah well,” Austin replied breezily, “I don’t believe we can discuss our options this close to the polling place can we? After all the law is pretty explicit about no politicking within five hundred feet of a polling place, right?”
Austin removed his sample ballot from his inside suit pocket. It looked well worn and well studied. Parts that were not dog-eared had varied colored post-it notes sticking out at odd angles with half visible notes scrawled on most of them. Again, Albert was impressed. Clearly, this man had his mind in the game! He wasn’t a pansy dope-smoking liberal loser whose idea of a good time was crapping on the American flag and voting stoned out of their stupid pot infested heads! Still, he remembered the German soldiers who had dressed as Americans during the Battle of the Bulge and created mayhem behind their lines…
“You simply can’t support Sitar! The man is a communist and a fascist!!” Albert blurted suddenly as spittle flew from his mouth. The spit probed the air between the two men like an early morning dawn patrol tasked with flushing out enemy snipers. A slight breeze came in through the open garage door and brought with it the smells of early fall and the sounds of a dog barking down the block. Car doors could be heard opening and closing out on the street. The wind caught hold of Albert’s eyebrow and set it waving in an apparent warning against the direction the conversation appeared to be heading.
“Well, which is he, a communist or a fascist?” Austin laughed; “He can’t be both, right? We should probably pick a derogatory stereotype and stick with it, eh?”
Albert blinked twice. And then again.
“After all that’s why Hitler and Stalin didn’t play all that well together, right? The communist and fascist hated each other.” He winks at Albert. “Now obviously, you would know that better than I, you were there after all.” He smiled reasonably.
People were walking up the driveway and, to Albert’s horror, two of them had full beards. Ominously, a young woman who should be home pregnant was instead stalking towards him with a clutched sample ballot in her hand that signaled her intent to destroy the Republic with her ill-conceived vote. He quickly passed over the forms for Austin’s signature as he readied a ballot card for his use while preparing mentally against this new threat to his flank. Looking up he could see two men coming up his drive following the young woman. They looked like the “correct” type to his experienced eye. That good news of conservative reinforcements, however, was moderated by the gleam in the young woman’s eye which undoubtedly warned of menstruation.
The first bearded Maoist was quickly dispatched through his failure to have adequate identification, however, the second one not only had the proper documentation but he had also served in the military. He began exploring what kind of name Garshburn was when the two men who had followed the young woman into the garage stepped around her and interrupted Albert’s questioning and Garshburn’s confusion.
“Mr. Gordon,” announced the taller of the two men. “My name is Charles Renwick and this is Edward Quibble. We are with the County Election Commission and we have been getting complaints all morning about your activities. Why are you asking this young man about the origins of his name and why were you questioning him about his military service?”
Albert began blustering as Austin walked up to the table having completed his civic duty with that participation duly noted within the voting machine’s electronic guts. He dropped the voting card into the basket while surreptitiously pocketing the double-sided-eraser pencil which he thought a dandy souvenir to give to his girlfriend’s three year old. Hard to hurt yourself with two erasers he reasoned. Nodding to Renwick and Quibble he scooped up an “I Voted” sticker and attached it to his lapel. Renwick put out his hand to stop him from leaving.
“Sir, did you experience any difficulty voting today?” Quibble inquired while casting an eye over Albert.
“Difficulty? Oh no, I understood the measures fairly well and I knew who I wanted to vote for.” Austin told them. “But thanks for asking.”
“Um, no sir,” clarified Renwick, “Did Mr. Gordon here attempt to impinge upon your ability to vote in this polling place? Did he question your political affiliation? Do you wish to lodge a complaint?”
“Lodge a complaint against Al? Oh no! He has been a perfect gentleman,” Austin graciously assured them, “I explained to him that although I was currently registered as a democrat that was only because I had wanted to participate in their primary and then never switched my affiliation back. I actually belong to the American Communist Party but really what need is there for a primary vote in a party that only allows one candidate, right?” He laughed loudly at his own joke before quickly asking, “That’s not illegal, right?”
“No, not at all, sir. Not at all.” Both officials quickly told him.
“Ah well, excellent then. I guess I will get back to work. Thanks Al!” Austin tossed over his shoulder as he walked out to his car.
The two election officials turned back to Albert and he did not look good. His normally beige pallor had turned white after hearing of Austin’s commie tendencies and was slowly being replaced by a bright pinkish-red hue as the anger moved slowly over his face. His left hand started twitching while his watery eyes began blinking rapidly as if they were attempting to telegraph his discomfort through Morse code.
“Mr. Gordon,” intoned Renwick, “In view of the serious allegations that have come to light this morning we are suspending your activities at this polling station pending further review. Mr. Quibble and I will man this polling place until the polls close.”
“BY CHRIST IF YOU WILL!” roared Albert as he stood to his full five feet four inches. “Get off my property!! GET OFF MY PROPERTY!!”
“Mr. Gordon, this equipment is the property of the County Election Commission and it is to be used…” Quibble tried.
“BY CHRIST IF YOU WILL!!” Albert yelled again as he began shuffling around the table toward them waving his arms. Garshburn, Renwick, Quibble, and the un-pregnant young woman all began backing away from the terrible fury that now owned and took possession of Albert’s features. Once their back stepping put them on his driveway he hit the remote for the garage door which closed on their faces. Breathing heavily, Albert shut off the garage light, went into his house, and sat at his kitchen table muttering.
As elections go this one was not without its technical glitches and human error. Charges and countercharges filled the air as the final votes were tabulated and it was several days before all the winners could be announced. In a very close race, Randall Sitar edged out incumbent Samuel Caldwell for the post of County Commissioner by a mere fifty votes. Several hundred Caldwell supporters complained that when they went to vote the polling place was inexplicitly closed. They blamed liberal forces for thwarting their will and usurping their constitutional rights. The case continues to be investigated by election officials according to media outlets.
Barbara Morrison was a pleasant young woman who worked for the Bureau of Veterans Affairs. She was attempting to place a welfare call on one of her new clients, Albert Gordon, but could not reach him by phone. Standing on his front porch she repeatedly rang his bell while pondering her options. Her records indicated he was quite elderly and so she wanted to make positive contact with him on this outreach. Perhaps she should call the police. Moving around the house she noted the overgrown weeds, flaking paint, torn screens, and general malaise that appeared to lie upon the property. Ascending the back stoop she looked through dirty windows into the man’s kitchen. There he was sitting at the table, rocking back and forth, and maintaining what looked like a continual stream of conversation. Barbara craned her neck but couldn’t see anyone in the kitchen who he could be talking to. She knocked on the window but was ignored while Albert continuously rocked back and forth while muttering to himself about this and that.
“Oh that poor dear, talking to an empty kitchen,” lamented Barbara, “that’s one of the signs.” Shaking her head sadly, she opened her cell phone and made the call to social services.